By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker questioned Monday how Democrats can say they stand for women while not challenging a private business association that excluded female Democratic gubernatorial candidates from a recent forum.
Democratic party officials say they had nothing to do with whom the Construction Business Group invited to its February forum and Walker knows it. The association responded by arguing it merely invited top fundraisers from each party. Still, Walker’s tweets underscore how difficult it will be for organizations to pick and choose whom among the 17 Democratic hopefuls to invite to forums and debates before the primary election in August.
The Construction Business Group held a forum on Feb. 22 and invited Walker as well as the Democratic candidates Tony Evers, Matt Flynn, Andy Gronik, Mahlon Mitchell and Dana Wachs. The group didn’t invite a dozen other Democratic hopefuls, including state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout and former state Rep. Kelda Helen Roys.
Walker issued a series of tweets on Monday criticizing Democrats for allowing the CBG to exclude the two women.
“Democrats say that they stand for women but exclude female candidates from debates and forums?” the governor tweeted.
Melanie Conklin, spokeswoman for the Democrats, fired back that the party had nothing to do with who was invited.
“There was not a forum sponsored by Wisconsin Democrats,” she said in an email to The Associated Press. “He is not telling the truth and he knows it and hopes this gets traction.”
Robb Kahl, executive director of the CBG, said in a telephone interview that he had to winnow the number of speakers down because he had only an hour and limited space.
He said the group decided to invite the top six fundraisers from each party.
“It didn’t matter if you were a man or a woman,” Kahl said. “It’s pretty simple. There’s no nefarious intent.”
Walker ultimately chose not to attend because, according to Kahl, he disagreed with its question-and-answer format. Wachs, a state representative from Eau Claire, also didn’t attend because the Assembly was in session that same day, he said.
Nathan Craft, a spokesman for the Walker campaign, had no immediate comment when asked why the governor hadn’t attended the forum.
Greg Leaf, a spokesman for the Vinehout, said private groups can invite anyone they want.
Roys responded to an AP email asking if she was concerned about candidates being shut out of forums and debates with a message accusing Walker of attacking women’s rights and painting herself as a champion for women. She did not respond to the question about the debates and didn’t reply to a follow-up email.
The question of whom to invite and who to exclude from forums and debates could grow more intense as the primary approaches and candidates fight more fiercely to be heard.
Mike Wittenwyler, an attorney who specializes in campaign finance, election law, ethics and lobbying cases, said he believes organizations should develop objective criteria as the CBG did. They can look at fundraising, poll support or who has an actual campaign apparatus, he said.
“There are only just so many people you can put on a stage,” Wittenwyler said. “It depends on where different organizations draw a line. You have to have (criteria) because some members (of the organization) will say why didn’t you invite this person?”